The First Aquino SONA

I’m happy that two of my most important advocacies, the investigation and prosecution of extralegal killings and the reform of the Witness Protection Program, figured in President Noynoy Aquino’s first State-of-the-Nation Address. While I would have preferred an express mention of the Maguindanao massacre in the first Sona since the massacre took place, and specific promises that he had for the victims of the country’s worse massacre ever, either in terms of reparations to the victims who were killed by state agents or a specific time frame within which to finish the prosecution of the case; still, P-Noy did promise in general terms that “killers would be prosecuted” under his administration. It was good that while he acknowledged that the killings continue until today, the difference is that in the three weeks that he has been in office, half of the extralegal killings that welcomed his administration had been investigated and now being prosecuted in court. Contrast this with the almost 1,000 killings under nine years of the Arroyo regime with only about three convictions, all of them involving only gun men, and none of the masterminds.
Under international law, the duty of civilian presidents is to prevent the loss of the right to life and in default of this, the further obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators thereof. Civilian heads of state will in fact incur criminal liability if they fail in this duty to investigate and prosecute. How, in turn, is this duty to investigate triggered? For military commanders, it is if it is shown that a commander in control of his subordinates had knowledge of the commission of the crimes or should have known about the same had he not turned a blind eye to the crimes. Civilian presidents have a similar duty, except that it must be shown that they actually knew that the crimes were actually happening and did nothing to prevent or investigate them. This duty to investigate is triggered , among others, by news reports and reports of human rights organizations. While these reports are hearsay insofar as the truthfulness of their contents are concerned, they are, however, sufficient basis to trigger the duty to investigate.

The President also promised reforms in the Witness Protection Program.

This is vindication of sorts since until today, government prosecutors, in addition to former Secretary of Justice Alberto Agra, have not acknowledged that “Jessie”, the murdered eye witness to the Maguindanao massacre, should have not died if only those charged with the implementation of the WPP bothered to listen to what he had to say. At the very least, the President’s promise to reform the WPP is evidence that the witness “Jessie” probably did not die in vain. Hopefully, he will heed the recommendations of professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extralegal Killings, to separate the WPP from the National Prosecution Service to insulate the program from the biases of government prosecutors. It is further hoped that these much-needed reforms in the WPP would finally accept how difficult it is for witnesses to gruesome crimes perpetrated by state agents to trust the WPP. Maybe, the Supreme Court, as an immediate remedial measure to address this issue of mistrust, should accredit soonest the list of organizations that can provide private sanctuaries.

I am happy that the President also repeated his promise to curtail graft and corruption in government. It was good that he singled out his marching orders for the Department of Justice and the Bureaus of Customs and Internal Revenues to file new cases against big-time smugglers and tax cheats on a weekly basis. I thought though that the President should have mentioned more specific means of how his administration would deal with the problems of corruption beyond mentioning the Truth Commission anew and promising to issue the Executive Order detailing the workings of the commission within the week. Perhaps though, he should have been more clear on how he intends to deal with the biggest obstacle to the fight against corruption: Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. With the administration Liberal Party now a Juggernaut in the House of Representatives, I am sure that his party mates were more than eager to find out how he intended to deal with the problem that is the Ombudsman. I would also have liked to hear the basics, that is, he will send thieves in government, including the Arroyos and their cohorts to jail. But maybe he thought mentioning this would be a superfluity given his repeated promises of “no reconciliation without justice” during the campaign. We hope this is in fact the case.

I’m not sure I liked Aquino’s having singled out the excesses of the board of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, though. Having had the opportunity, albeit all so briefly, to act as corporate secretary of a government-owned and -controlled corporation once, I do not find the P2 million per annum compensation for board members particularly scandalous if only because almost all of GOCCs of the same size as the MWSS probably have the same levels of compensation. I’m sure this sum is either the same or even bigger in the boards of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Government Service Insurance System, Social Security System, PNOC-Energy Development Corporation, Development Bank of the Philippines, Land Bank of the Philippines, to name only a few. The issue should not have been solely focused on the remuneration of the MWSS Board. The President should have raised how much all board members of GOCCs should make.

Anent the hoard of rice stocks that the National Food Authority imported, the President remained quiet on what made these importations even more reprehensible. That hat is, in addition to rotting rice stocks and overpriced warehouses, there is the greed of those who obviously made money out of these importations. To quote Jun Lozada, “they failed to moderate their greed.”

On his legislative agenda, I hope the anti-trust bill is finally enacted into law. There has been a pending anti-draft law in Congress since the 8th Congress in 1988. I should know since I drafted one such version of the draft bills which I pattered after the American anti-trust law. It has since gathered dust for the past 25 years despite the fact that we need the law badly, what with the proliferation today of monopolies and oligopolies which render free competition in the market illusory.

The call to re-examine our codified laws was also welcomed particularly by the University of the Philippines College of Law community. Individual members of the faculty have been engaged in the re-examination of these codes ranging from the Revised Penal Code, to a proposed Code of Commercial Laws, an amended Environmental Code, and even amendments to the Family Code and other laws affecting persons and family relations.

By and large, the President stuck to a tried-and-tested formula in speech writing: use short sentences that are direct to the point. Still, where it was lacking was the lack of an action plan. Maybe that will come as soon as the respective heads of the executive departments have finalized their action plans.

Filipina “Comfort Women” Deserve Political Support

(From ICTJ)
NEW YORK, July 23, 2010—The Philippines government should support renewed efforts by former sexual slaves to seek reparations and an official apology from Japan , said the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) today.

Before and during World War II, the Japanese military government forced an estimated 200,000 women from many Asian countries, known as “comfort women,” to provide Japanese soldiers with sexual services. In April 2010 the Philippine Supreme Court dismissed a case by a group of Filipina comfort women aiming to compel the Philippine government to seek reparations from Japan on their behalf. On July 19 these women asked the Philippine Supreme Court to reconsider.

ICTJ calls on the Philippines government to support the women’s efforts and on President Aquino to show leadership on this issue.

“The remaining survivors of Japan ’s system of sexual slavery in World War II do not need pity or charity. They need justice,” said ICTJ president, David Tolbert . “The struggle of President Aquino’s parents against impunity is well known. Their son should follow in their footsteps and support these aging comfort women in their long struggle for justice,” said Tolbert.

“The comfort women’s arguments are well supported under international law,” said Helen Scanlon , director of ICTJ’s Gender Justice Program. “The Philippines has an opportunity to set an example. It can show how a state can fulfill its duty and seek to provide effective remedies for citizens whose human rights have been violated—in this case, women singled out and subjected to the crime of wartime sexual slavery. We strongly encourage the court to revisit its April 2010 ruling on this issue,” said Scanlon.


Accountability for the Comfort Women System

While some war crimes prosecutions for crimes committed during World War II took place at the post-war Tokyo Trials in the late 1940s, the trials did not bring accountability for the comfort women system. In 1993 a statement by the Japanese Prime Minister’s office expressed regret for what happened to the women, but it did not go as far as to give an official apology or provide reparations. Comfort women have endured the long-term effects of their sexual slavery through physical injuries, mental and emotional suffering, damage to their reproductive capacity and harm to social relationships.

In 1995 Japan established the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) to provide financial, medical and welfare assistance to surviving former comfort women. But the AWF was financed through so-called “atonement” funds from private sources, including Japanese corporations and private individuals, but excluding government funds. Many comfort women rejected the AWF because they saw it as a way for Japan to evade state responsibility.

A group of some sixty Filipina former comfort women, called the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers), first sought to compel the Philippines government to support their request for reparations and an apology in 2004. The case was dismissed by the Supreme Court on April 28, 2010. The group filed a motion asking the court to reconsider on July 19.

Victims Have a Right to Reparations

There are long-standing legal and moral principles that support compensation, giving acknowledgement, offering apologies, establishing memorials and delivering needed material and physical support to victims of such crimes.

Based on these principles, Germany provided reparations and official apologies to victims of the Nazi regime¾including victims of sexual and gender-based violence¾and the United States also compensated and apologized to Japanese-Americans it forced into internment camps during World War II.

Rights to reparation are clearly established under international law and are summarized in the 2005 United Nations General Assembly Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparations for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.

The right to remedy is not discretionary. All states are bound to provide an effective remedy for victims of torture and slavery. In the case of the comfort women, their age makes reparations an even more urgent need that should be provided ahead of all other forms of accountability.

The right to remedy should not be confused with the duty to extend diplomatic protection to citizens’ abroad, and is not dependent on whether prosecutions take place.

(See also Japanese Government Should Give Apology and Compensation To WWII Comfort Women)

About ICTJ
The International Center for Transitional Justice works to redress and prevent the most severe violations of human rights by confronting legacies of mass abuse. ICTJ seeks holistic solutions to promote accountability and create just and peaceful societies. For more information, visit


Helen Scanlon ( Cape Town GMT +2)
Director, Gender Justice Program
Tel +27 21 448 6464/6255/6620

Lisa Jamhoury ( New York GMT -4)
Communications Associate
Tel +1 917 637 3846
Cell +1 917 975 2305


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